U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL OFFICIALS VISIT CNMI

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Follows similar review on Guam

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 17, 20111) – Officials from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Pacific Region offices are on island to see how federal funds are being used in the CNMI and to discuss the challenges the islands face when it comes to its natural resources.

CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife director Arnold Palacios confirmed yesterday that the 11-member delegation, led by Pacific Region One deputy regional director Richard Hannan, arrived Tuesday night following their visit to the neighboring island of Guam.

"We get a lot of funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife and they're here to see how we're doing, what our challenges are, and the issues they can help with. Moreover, it will help them get a better appreciation of our environment," said Palacios in an interview at his office in Lower Base.

Palacios disclosed that about 95 percent of their operational cost, including personnel expenditures, are financed by federal funding, majority of which come from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also provides funds to the local Fish & Wildlife office.

"Maintaining the federal funds we receive is among the top priorities when I came in as a director. It's a resource that has been able to support most, if not all, of our programs," Palacios told Saipan Tribune.

While this visit is the first for Hannan, Palacios noted that staffers from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service office in Hawaii visit the CNMI "once or twice a year" to ensure that the local Fish & Wildlife office meets the terms of its federal aid.

"They take time, although brief, to come and see our situation in the CNMI. These folks are very open and very helpful in providing whatever guidance we ask them without overwhelming us. They are very accommodating in trying to see that the program works for us and the regions and that we're consistent with national standards because they understand the uniqueness of the Commonwealth," he said.

Palacios said the visiting officials toured some of the wildlife conservation areas on island, including the Saipan Upland Mitigation Bank in Marpi intended to safeguard habitats of sensitive species, mitigate the negative impacts of commercial development, and facilitate rational and sustainable commercial development.

The director said the local DFW went through "uncertainties and instabilities" as it had no director "for an extended period of time."

DFW, which is under the Department of Land and Natural Resources, did not have a director for most of last year when former director Sylvan Igisomar went on a leave of absence and later left the division in September 2010.

Palacios came into office only in April. He previously served as director from 1984 to 1996.

"That was a challenge," said Palacios, referring to the time he accepted the position anew. "There were a lot of turnovers. But I think we've kind of stabilized since then. A lot of credit goes to our professional staff for their commitment to put things back on track."

Palacios revealed that some of the visiting federal officials will visit Rota while the others will fly to Tinian before heading back to Guam.

"It's very valuable that they visit us to put faces to the names because we correspond back and forth. It's also important for them to get first-hand experience of the island that they help fund," he added.

The delegation also paid a courtesy visit yesterday to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial. Press secretary Angel Demapan said the governor was "very pleased" about the "meet-and-greet."

"Gov. Fitial thanked them for visiting the CNMI and asked for their continued support and assistance in regards to meeting project requirements under the Endangered Species Act," said Demapan.

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